WorldWide Negligence

An airport security company received a surprise visit from the FBI. Here's why.

Raskin, however, says he thinks that Betty (whom he suspected of being the FBI informant before I called) has a vendetta against the company, in part because Herberz demanded that Betty stop wearing skirts. "There were arguments over inappropriate attire," he says.

Raskin also intimates that Betty went to the FBI because she was fired. Indeed, Catani terminated her just before she went to the authorities. And it had nothing to do with her legs. Seven weeks after she began working at WorldWide, Betty's own criminal background finally came back. She had a misdemeanor domestic assault, due to an argument with her ex-husband that dated back a decade. Though a judge dismissed the charge, Catani fired her anyway.

Betty insists she didn't go to the FBI out of spite; it was simply a matter of self-preservation. With heightened federal scrutiny of the airport screening companies, she didn't want to be the scapegoat. "I knew my signature was on those forms and they could blame me for everything," she says.

Whatever her motivation, Betty exposed a colossal mess at WorldWide when she went to the feds. Just five days after she spoke with the feds, agents raided the WorldWide office and hauled off its records. Betty says FBI agents told her the seized files proved that at least 67 screeners either had never been checked or didn't receive proper training. Betty also says that numerous former employees of WorldWide (including herself) still have company badges that give them access to secure locations at the airport. WorldWide doesn't keep track, she adds.

She suspects that some of the company's illicit secrets may have been shredded before the raid. "I told the FBI to make sure and check the shredder," she comments.

Raskin asserts that any shredding at the office was strictly legal but acknowledges that many of the training files were incomplete. He wouldn't say why the nine fired employees didn't pass their background checks. The lawyer admits that WorldWide put employees to work in the airport before the checks were complete. But, he says, all were supervised closely. "Whenever there was an open item, the person was not put out there on their own," Raskin says. "There were some people out there on on-the-job training, and they were out there under supervision until their backgrounds were completed."

That argument could be crucial to WorldWide's defense. According to federal law, screeners who are not fully checked out can work in an airport only under supervision and "may not exercise any independent judgments" while they are working. But Betty insists that numerous screeners worked independently before their background checks were done. "On-the-job training lasted 40 hours," she says. "All those employees became permanent screeners after the 40 hours were up. And most of the supervisors weren't properly trained either."

Federal officials refused to comment on the investigation. Dirk Herberz, the airport's security manager, says he has no regulatory oversight of the screening company -- which is a good thing, since he happens to be married to WorldWide's office manager, Melissa Herberz. "There are a lot of problems at all the screening companies," says the husband. "I'm glad that the federal government is taking them over."

WorldWide, though, has been making the most of the time before the takeover. The company has been growing, largely due to scandals involving the nation's largest airport screening company, Argenbright Security. Argenbright was fined $1.6 million last year after pleading guilty to charges that it failed to conduct proper background checks of employees at Logan International Airport in Boston. This past November, Massachusetts officials pulled Argenbright's license to operate and hired WorldWide, along with two other companies. Around the same time, WorldWide also took over a $6 million contract from Argenbright at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix.

But the growth hasn't come without some bad publicity. The Arizona Republic followed the announcement of WorldWide's hiring at Sky Harbor with a report that the company's record of security lapses at the airport was nearly three times worse than Argenbright's during the past few years. In Tampa, WorldWide made international news last month when screeners overlooked a loaded gun in a briefcase. Oops.

If the office in Fort Lauderdale provides any indication, the scandals have just begun. Let's hope the firm is soon put out of the airport security business for good; there's no room in the post-September 11 world for a company like WorldWide.

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